Drum Breaks, DJs and More: J-Term Students Produce Podcasts

January 11, 2024 By Alice Berry, aberry@virginia.edu Alice Berry, aberry@virginia.edu

In the summer of 1969, the soul band The Winstons took 20 minutes to record a B-side track to their single, “Color Him Father.”

That B-side, “Amen, Brother” was a throwaway song and received little notice at the time it was released. The Winstons would disband a year after recording it. But “Amen, Brother” became one of the most widely sampled pieces of music. The indie rock band Oasis, the rap group N.W.A. and even the theme for the adult cartoon Futurama use the drum break known as “the Amen break.”

Dana Sun, a second-year student at the University of Virginia, dove into the Amen break’s history, global spread and musical composition in a project she created in a January term course on podcasting.

Sun’s podcast, called “Dissecting Earworms,” aims to explain the music theory behind seemingly ubiquitous pieces of music. As a computer science and music double major, Sun said the podcast idea came from her own desire to learn more about the technical side of music.

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“It would be so hard to communicate with other musicians during soundcheck,” Sun, a guitarist, said. “I’d say, ‘Oh, your guitars should feel fatter,’ and it wouldn’t make any sense.”

Over time, and thanks in part to her music classes at UVA, Sun has learned how to talk to other musicians about music. What she’s learned in her computer science classes helped her program MIDI drums to demonstrate the different parts of the Amen break in her podcast. She imagines the podcast as a “companion” for budding musicians and music enthusiasts. And she plans to continue the podcast once the course ends.

WTJU General Manager Nathan Moore has taught the J-term podcasting class for five years. In about two weeks, students (who often have little experience with podcasting) write, record and edit their own podcasts. Moore just asks that the podcasts be about music or include music as part of the storytelling. In the past, students’ projects have ranged from a fictional audio drama to a feature about the best basketball player to never make it to the NBA.

Nathan Moore teaching podcasting
WTJU General Manager Nathan Moore has taught the podcasting J-term course for five years. (Photo by Matt Riley, University Communications)

“What I like about the class is that it gives students a lot of flexibility and freedom to find a way to communicate and express themselves, and along the way, they learn both technical skills and storytelling skills,” Moore said.

Like Sun, first-year student Daisy Wong’s podcast incorporated the sciences and humanities. But her project focused on the pressure she and some other students feel to choose a “practical” major in business or a STEM field.

“I went to a high school that’s really STEM competitive, but I was always drawn to humanities subjects,” Wong said. “That’s part of why I chose to come to UVA.”

Students working on podcast audio together
Piergiorgio Wilson and Daisy Wong both had film experience prior to starting the class. (Photo by Matt Riley, University Communications)

Growing up in Irvine, California, Wong would make student films in high school. Some of her filmmaking skills transferred to producing a podcast, she said, but Wong liked being able to get closer to her subjects for her J-term project.

“You feel a lot of intimacy, and I got a lot of support,” Wong said.

Piergiorgio Wilson, a fourth-year student majoring in music, also had video experience. Though he usually makes YouTube videos about classical music, for his podcast, Wilson decided to interview a classmate who moonlights as a music producer and house DJ. 

Wide view of a podcasting lecture
Students offer each other feedback on “rough cuts” of their projects. (Photo by Matt Riley, University Communications)

“Doing a podcast in the future is something I 100% want to do,” Wilson said.

He learned practical skills from the class, but he also had a good time.

“Every minute of lecture was genuinely fun,” he said.

Media Contact

Alice Berry

University News Associate Office of University Communications